As we learned from Sapolsky a “placebo effect occurs when a person’s assessment of their health improves merely because they believe that a medical procedure has been carried out on them regardless of whether it actually has” (pg.197).  Another more siplistic way to put it is that a placebo is a sugar pill.

        The big secret to the success of the placebo effect is that the patient doesn’t know that they are taking a sugar pill, right?  WRONG!  Placebos can work even if the patient knows that they’re fake.  New research done treating irritable bowl syndrome suggests that placebos can work without the secrecy.

         In the study patients were told they would be taking “placebo pills made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical trials to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes.”  The difference in this study compared to other studies done is that the patients were told that the placebo pills worked.

        The results showed that 59% on the placebo got better whereas only 35% got better without treatment.  These dramatic effects of the placebo compare to some of the strongest treatments tested for IBS.  The exception is that the placebo has no side effects.

       These results are being used in an ongoing controversy over the ethics of using plcebos with or without telling the patients they are getting a placebo.  The problem was that until recently the placebo effect was only known to work if the patient was unaware.  Know that may possibly all change.  Here is a link for more info: 



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